Lizzie Drury MSc RNutr

Feeding the older horse

There are three primary considerations that you should take into account when feeding a veteran horse; 

  1. a) Ease of chewing
  2. b) Digestibility of nutrients
  3. c) Palatability

EASE OF CHEWING

Dental problems are common in older horses and frequently result in loss of body condition. Signs that may indicate that your veteran is having problems chewing hay will include ‘quidding’. This is when lumps of partially chewed hay will be spat out and left on the floor. If the length of the fibres in the horse’s droppings are also getting longer, then this is another indication that he is not digesting his fibre properly and the horse should have his teeth checked. 

horse teeth and skull

Fibre is ESSENTIAL to maintaining a healthy digestive system in any horse, old or young. If your horse is unable to cope with chewing long-stem forage, you may need to offer a more easily chewed form of fibre. Haylage is one alternative as this is usually softer than hay, but if even this is difficult for the older horse to chew, a soft, soaked high-fibre alternative could be offered such as Super Fibre Cubes, mixed with a little chaff and sugar beet, as an alternative to a hay net. 

 Top Tip: Regular six monthly checks from your vet or an equine dentist are essential

FORAGE

Forage should form the basis of every horse’s diet. As a general rule, long-stem forage (grass, hay, and haylage) should be fed at 1.5% - 2% of body weight per day and should NEVER fall below 1% of body weight per day. It is essential that all horses have their forage requirements met and this can easily be done using forage replacers if your horse struggles to consume enough long-stem forage. 

Commonly used products on the market are Saracen Super Fibre Cubes, or short-chop chaffs. It is very important to recognise that combinations of these forage replacers need to be fed at the same rate as long-stem forage to support maintenance of body condition and digestive health. These items can be mixed together and fed in a large bucket in place of hay nets. 

Super Fibre CUBES render

Super Fibre Cubes are a great way to increase the fibre content of the diet and they canbe easily soaked to form a mash for horses and ponies that have difficulty chewing. Thecubes have a low-starch and sugar content and are cereal-free. The highly digestible‘super-fibres’ included in the formulation ensure the cubes provide a good level ofcalories to support weight maintenance in the older horse. Soya oil is used within thepencil to support optimum skin and coat condition. 

 

DIGESTIBILITY OF NUTRIENTS 

Saracen Horse Feeds was the first British feed manufacturer to develop a ration specifically for the older horse back in 1993. As horses age, the efficiency of their digestive tract begins to reduce resulting in the need for a specifically formulated veteran ration to support maintenance of optimum body condition. Saracen developed the Veteran range to meet this demand due to the growing population of horses over 16 years of age in the UK and in Europe today. 

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Saracen Veteran Mix is based on a variety of quality ingredients including highly digestible “Super-fibres”, micronised cereals and a high oil level to provide a ration that is easily utilised and gentle on the digestive system.  The ration is easy to chew, highly palatable and particularly suitable for those older horses that are still in regular work, competitive regimes or those that are more difficult to keep condition on. It contains optimum levels of quality protein sources for muscle and tissue repair and development as well as optimum levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support health and vitality as well as maintaining a healthy immune system.  A live yeast has been added to support the efficiency of the digestive tract health and maintain optimum fibre digestion and utilisation in older horses.

 

Saracen Veteran Cubes are a very similar formulation but in a cube form. They are soft and easily soaked into a palatable mash making them ideal for older horses with poor teeth condition. Remember to always feed on a ‘little and often’ basis and any one meal should be no more than 3Ibs for a pony and 5Ibs for a horse. This reduces the risk of undigested starch reaching the hindgut, where it is then rapidly fermented by the micro-organisms and can increase the risk of digestive upsets e.g. colic and Laminitis.  

 

TOP TIPS FOR MANAGING YOUR VETERAN

  •  If you do not have one already, invest in a weight tape and use it on a fortnightly basis to monitor your horse or pony’s body condition. Using a weight tape allows you to be able to pick up any changes in your veteran's condition much quicker than by the eye alone
  • Maintain a regular worming programme. Some older horses are more difficult to keep condition on, not because of their age but perhaps as a result of parasite damage over the years
  • Remember that horses can lose up to 80% of their feed energy just to keep warm. Make sure that your horse is adequately rugged and if he is living out, ensure that he has shelter from the wind and rain
  • Fat contains up to 2.5 times more energy than carbohydrates, so it is an excellent method of increasing the energy density of your horse’s ration without dramatically increasing the amount you are feeding. EQUI-JEWEL® is a high-fat supplement which will increase the calorie density of any horse's ration considerably. Low in starch and high in fibre, EQUI-JEWEL® also contains antioxidants such as Vitamin E and selenium to counteract the free radicals that form when horses are fed rations high in oil. 

Need some guidance?

For a personalised feeding plan for your veteran horse please complete our simple and free Feed Advice Form Alternatively, if you would prefer to speak to one of our qualified nutritionists for some immediate advice, please call our feed advice line on 01622 718 487 

 

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